DNR Proposes Changes to Mission, Legislature to Review

Photo courtest of UAA

Although it’s not official yet, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources has announced its intention to change its mission statement. Recently, administrators quietly removed the words ‘conserve’ and ‘enhance ‘from the statement, leaving only the word ‘develop’ to describe how resources should be managed. They also removed a reference to ‘future Alaskans’. Legislators will soon begin weighing in on the issue.

DNR Commissioner, Dan Sullivan says there’s one reason he decided to change the agency’s mission statement — because, he wants the mission to be more closely aligned with the state’s constitution.

“Particularly the policy statement in Article 8, section 1,” Sullivan said.

That’s the part that reads:

“… to encourage the settlement of its land and the development of its resources by making them available for *maximum use consistent with the public interest,” Sullivan said.

The old mission statement read that DNR’s mission was, “To develop, conserve and enhance natural resources for present and future Alaskans.” The words conserve and enhance have been dropped, along with the reference to “future Alaskans.” Sullivan, served as Attorney General for a year before he was appointed Commissioner of DNR by Governor Sean Parnell in 2010. His staff says this is not the first time DNR’s mission statement has changed. They say there were three revisions in the past decade alone. Sullivan issued the change on Jan. 17.

News of the revision has conservation groups concerned, says Trish Rolfe with Trustees for Alaska.

“It concerns me not just from my organizational standpoint, but from a longtime Alaskan. It is in our constitution that we utilize develop and conserve all the natural resources belonging to the state. You know you don’t just get to use the first two of it,” Rolfe said.

Changing the wording of the mission also worries Bob Shavelson with Cook Inletkeeper. He says he noticed the change to the mission a few weeks ago.

“My staff brought it to my attention a couple of weeks ago … from a power point presentation that commissioner Sullivan had given, and he just thought it was peculiar that they were stating the mission as something that was different from the written mission on the DNR website. And then just this past week we saw that they had gone and unilaterally gone and changed their mission,” Shavelson said.

That change in wording, Shavelson says, gives the mission a pro-development slant. And it’s something he says that should also concern the legislature.

“One of the concerns that the legislature may have is that you have an executive agency that may or may not have some political motivations in making that change, so it should fall in the prerogative of the legislature to do that because under the notion of separation of powers that falls within the duty of the legislature,” Shavelson said.

And some legislators are concerned. Sullivan presented the new mission to them on Jan. 20 at a meeting of the House Resources Committee in Juneau. During that meeting, Representative Paul Seaton of Homer questioned the change. He says it deserves a thorough review.

“I want to make sure that we are developing in a responsible way – we also don’t exclude conserving or enhancing our natural resources or future Alaskans. That’s something that is left out of the proposed mission statement by DNR,” Seaton said.

Seaton says he expects Commissioner Sullivan to provide more information about the proposed changes to the mission, the reasoning behind it and possible impacts. He also claims statutes give the legislature, not DNR the responsibility to issue a mission statement for state agencies.

“The legislature sets the mission statements. It hasn’t adopted this mission statement. The old mission statement will still be operative until the legislature changes the mission statement,” Seaton said.

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources is responsible for managing the state’s vast energy and natural resources and overseeing regulatory activities on approximately 100-million acres of uplands, 60-million acres of tidelands, shorelands and submerged lands, and 40,000 miles of coastline. Seaton says legislators hope to begin addressing the proposed changes to DNR’s mission statement in the coming weeks.

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Daysha Eaton, KMXT - Kodiak
Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.